08 janvier 2024

A new two-day course offered jointly by the École nationale de l’humour (ENH) and Executive Education HEC Montréal has been developed to help business leaders embrace humour as a tool for effective management.

“When humour is used appropriately in the workplace, the benefits can be incredible. It’s a great way to make relationships more collaborative and communication more engaging”.

- Louise Richer, ENH Founding Director

But there’s a learning process involved: executives need to appreciate the potential benefits, be aware of their own style of humour and learn how, and when, to bring the funny.

That’s where Using Humour as a Leadership Tool: the Secret to Happier, More Engaged Employees comes in. The only course of its kind in Canada, it came about through a unique partnership between ENH and Executive Education HEC Montréal.

“Strong interpersonal skills are an absolute must in today’s business world. We are proud to make this course available as part of our broader leadership training offering to focus on something that is critical to creating work environments that put innovation and individual achievement front and centre.”

- Michelle Vaillancourt, Executive Education HEC Montréal’s Director of Communications and Programs

Proven Benefits

“The relationship between humour, management, leadership and workplace dynamics has been the subject of some compelling research since the 1980s. Interest in this field is exploding everywhere.”

- Louise Richer

Studies from around the world indicate that humour feeds creativity, motivation, employees’ sense of belonging within an organization and a positive group environment. A 2021 study even shows that employees feel safer psychologically when working with a leader who has a sense of humour.

Richer went on to explain that ongoing labour shortages, the associated challenges of attracting and retaining talent, and the attitudes of younger workers are all having a profound impact on how today’s businesses operate. “Creating that energy and flow within your team can be hard these days,” she said. She is often asked by private- and public-sector organizations of all kinds to talk to their people and train them in how communication and humour can be leveraged to overcome some of these obstacles.

You Gotta Laugh

Leaders have to start by giving themselves permission to be funny in their business dealings. “Funny people are sometimes looked down on for ‘goofing around’ or ‘wasting time,’” said François Rioux, himself a business owner who teaches in HEC Montréal’s Department of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. He is one of the instructors of this new training program, alongside Richer and Benoît Pelletier, a comedy writer, screenwriter, director, corporate trainer and ENH instructor.

Rioux graduated from ENH in 2004. His comedic chops have definitely come in handy in his professional and academic endeavours, from hiring people, to networking and socializing, to delivering presentations in both the boardroom and the classroom.

“It’s time to disabuse people of the idea that humour in the workplace has nothing to do with better performance or structure. It can actually play a critical role in keeping an organization running smoothly and employees working happily. Finding that sweet spot between the two can catapult your business to new heights.”

- François Rioux, Business Ownerand Full-Time Lecturer, HEC Montréal

What's Your Style of Humour

Not everybody can make an audience split their sides with laughter. But there are ways for any leader to incorporate humour into their management practices to one degree or another. “It’s a muscle, like a bicep. It’s just that some of us flex it more than others,” chuckled Rioux.

The first step in exercising this muscle is to determine what your style of humour is.

“There are some very simple tests that can help you find out where your comedic strengths lie. Some people aren’t particularly effective at putting humour out there, but they can be receptive to funny things, and that’s huge.”

- Louise Richer

Everybody can learn to laugh at themselves and to see the funny side of a given situation. Humour is something to appreciate and encourage within a group: as Richer is fond of saying, “The team that laughs together, thrives together.”

Funny Is Fun

Throughout the program, the three instructors share and give examples of humour-based strategies that leaders can use to foster emotional intelligence and mental well-being. This is commonly referred to as “affiliative humour.” The goal is to bring people together.

“It’s not about being funny for funny’s sake. It’s about putting people at their ease, which translates to a higher level of workplace engagement,” Richer explained. But to make sure humour is constructive and inclusive takes a keen sense of observation and judgment. Self-regulation and the proper filters are key.

Respectful and Responsible

“Laughter is said to be the shortest distance between two people, but first you have to be able to read the room.”

- Louise Richer

The person on the giving end of a joke or a witty remark must be accountable for what they say. It is crucial that they take considerations like cultural and gender diversity into account, especially in the #MeToo era.

Humorous intent must be clear enough for people on the receiving end to “get the joke.” Not only that, said Richer, but “it’s important to understand that there are limits and to abide by them.” Listening and being empathetic are essential in this regard, as is overall emotional intelligence. Developing these skills makes it easier to “use the information you have on other people in context-appropriate ways ,” added Rioux.

Hilarity Is Hard Work

Comedy legends may have a natural gift for guffaw-generating one-liners and off-the-cuff quips, but most of their bits are worked through in advance and in meticulous detail. It’s no different in the workplace. “When you’re getting ready for a presentation or drafting an email to your staff, it can take time to add a humorous touch. Don’t rush it,” Rioux advised.

After teaching a course on written communication at a major Montreal-area hospital, Richer was thrilled to find out that:

“participants’ out-of-office voicemail messages all got a lot funnier. Not only did this help make their interactions with their coworkers more personal, but it also put a smile on people’s faces as they listened.”

- Louise Richer

The positive emotions generated as a result can ease tensions and relieve stress. Humour “injects a ray of light” into any situation, she said.

Among the takeaways of Using Humour as a Leadership Tool:

“participants will have a better handle on just how useful this approach can be in a management context. They’ll leave with a set of concrete tools for making humour a regular part of their day.”

- François Rioux

Now that’s enough to put a smile on any manager’s face.